Despite Turmoil, NFL Teams Fear Aaron Rodgers Will Be Better Than Ever in 2018

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 19, 2018

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers watches warm up before an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Mike Roemer/Associated Press

As the 2018 NFL draft approaches, the Green Bay Packers seem to be in a state of flux. 

In mid-March, they released Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers' best weapon and close friend. In January, the contract of Alex Van Pelt, his quarterbacks coach, expired and he didn't return. And Rodgers himself is coming off of a devastating injury.

All of this seems contrary to the notion that Rodgers will have an explosive comeback in 2018. Yet sources from several teams tell me they're more afraid of Rodgers than ever.

In fact, they think Rodgers will return with a vengeance this season. They think this will be his season. They think he'll win the MVP. They think—and this is saying something, because Rodgers is both a superstar and perhaps the most gifted quarterback ever—we might see the best version of him yet.

The primary reason they highlight for this expected Rodgers resurgence? Jimmy Graham

As one of the team sources put it, if you put a player with Rodgers' accuracy together with a player of Graham's caliber, you essentially create an NFC version of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

"The damage Aaron Rodgers could do with Jimmy Graham is scary," the source said. "It's potentially historic."

I'm also hearing Rodgers is fine with the current power structure in Green Bay, along with how that power is wielded.

This might seem to run contrary to what some assume after the turnover. Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reported Monday that Rodgers was "both 'frustrated' and 'emotional' over a lack of communication" from the front office about the decisions to part ways with Nelson and Van Pelt. There has even been speculation that the departures could become a factor as the Packers try to extend Rodgers' contract, which is already a tricky negotiation with quarterback salaries ballooning leaguewide.

But while Rodgers was upset, a source in the Packers organization says he's already moved past it. He's come to terms with Van Pelt and Nelson being gone, and he believes he'll get a new contract.

Rodgers' anger wasn't necessarily about not being consulted, the source says. It was about losing close friends.

Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

Rodgers acknowledged that himself Tuesday, telling reporters, "This is a professional environment, but as humans, we have personal connections to people. Obviously, [Nelson] was one of my closest friends in the locker room for a number of years, and [we] played together for a long time and talked about really finishing his career here and together."

"The disappointment is when you get close to your teammates, and they're not here anymore—and especially when they're not here, [and] they're playing somewhere else. But the organization is making decisions that they feel like are in best interest for our team, and you've got to trust the process."

Some fans and media still see players as robots. They don't understand players have close friendships in the sport, the same way we do. When their friends get dumped, they get upset, much like we do.

But from everything I'm hearing, he isn't taking it personally or holding it against the organization. Professionally, Rodgers is happy.

Graham has to be a huge reason why. The tight end has battled injuries, but when he's right, he's as good as it gets at the position.

Rodgers and Graham are already friendly. They met at the Pro Bowl a few years ago and have been friends ever since. Rodgers was one of the reasons why Graham went to Green Bay. (Rodgers is the reason why a lot of people go to Green Bay.)

Graham had larger financial offers elsewhere, and some teams believe if he can stay healthy for a few years, he'd eclipse almost any tight end not named Gronkowski.

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

"There [were] a lot of teams out there who were really pulling on me, and I turned down quite a significant amount of money to come here because I believe in not only [Packers head coach Mike McCarthy] but, I mean, 12's hungry," Graham told reporters Tuesday. "I know how he is and I know how competitive he is, and I want to ride that wave and try to help him as best I can."

"For me, it's about winning a ring, simple as that," Graham added. "I know this team. I know Aaron's hungry. I know the coaching staff's hungry. This franchise is hungry to win one. That was the defining factor for me."

The power structure in Green Bay may be in flux. Players may be entering and leaving the team facility. But one factor still remains, and he remains one of the best ever to do it.

It's Aaron Rodgers.

And now he has Graham.

No wonder some people around the NFL are scared. They should be.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.


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